Is the lecture theatre dead?

Date & Time: 31st October 2017

Debate and Discussion on the design of teaching spaces at Bush House, King’s College London

At HEDQF’s annual conference in July 2017, Jane Bunce gave a presentation on the new campus for the University of Northampton, which is being designed with new collaborative and interactive forms of teaching, and not a traditional lecture theatre in sight.

Is this the start of a new trend?  Is the lecture theatre dead?

The new Harvard-style lecture theatre at Bush House was filled by around 80 university and design professionals to discuss the future of the lecture theatre.  Is it dead, or is it transforming?  Some universities are still building them – but will they be extinct in a decade or two as new forms of teaching take over?

Chaired by Ian Caldwell, presentations from Keith Papa, Head of Science, Research and Technology at BDP, Andrew Harrison, Director, Spaces that Work & Professor of Practice at University of Wales, Trinity St David and Professor Andrew George, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education and International) at Brunel University, London explored current trends in lecture theatres and teaching spaces from different perspectives, looking at the new generation of spaces being created in universities and also in commercial creative organisations, the role and design of the 21st century lecture theatre.  Andrew George drew this together with a description of what Brunel is planning with its new teaching building, which will complement its Brutalist centrepiece at the heart of its campus (and which featured as the sanatorium in the film Clockwork Orange).  One of the key successes of Brunel is in widening participation and its teaching and learning spaces have to be designed to support, encourage and foster ambition in students from all walks of life.

Universities in Australia are repurposing old lecture theatres to create more flexible spaces, but one of the key lessons is that the new generation of teaching rooms require more space per person; utilisation therefore needs to go up to justify the investment in space.  There is still a role for the lecture theatre as a place for inspirational and inspiring exchange of knowledge and, at the end of the day, memories are about the lecturer, not about the space.

The lively debate examined the role of technology and the need to support academic staff in changes of delivery, the fact that technology, pedagogy and architecture are not quite yet aligned, (too often the technology is added once the space is designed), and the importance of daylight and transparency – so that there is connectivity to adjacent spaces and perhaps also to adjacent communities.   Lectures should be on show as a key part of academic life, not hidden in darkened underground bunkers.

The view was that news of the death of the lecture theatre is premature; it is not dead, but is slowly evolving in a variety of ways.   This is no doubt a discussion which will continue into the future.

The debate was followed by a tour of the newly refurbished spaces in Bush House, formerly the HQ of the BBC World Service where new teaching and learning spaces have been designed in contrast to the more traditional ones across the Strand in the half of the campus and drinks in the flexible space on the 8th floor.   And, yes, there is a lecture theatre, but it has been designed with the flexibility to also be a performance space.

Thanks to the speakers, to Overbury for sponsoring the drinks and to John Robertson Architects and LTS Architects for the building tours.

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